James Lawton: A gold medal to the London 2012 athletes and the audience

The endeavours of the Olympians will not be forgotten. But it is the contribution of the crowds that sets these Games apart from almost any other

We came so fragile and, let's be honest, fearful into the 30th Olympic Games that ended here last night with all the poignancy of the sweetest parting.

Already it seems like an impossible stretch of memory but it is true and it is why the closing rites were filled with so much pride and emotion and, maybe above all, a feeling not so much of a job well done but a spirit regained, a sense of ourselves and the world around us that might just defy, for a little while at least, the bleakest forecasts.

These, it was possible to believe as the flame was put out not as some vulnerable candle in the wind but a strong symbol of reasserted values, were the Olympics that celebrated more vividly than any in living memory the enduring gusto of an embattled world.

These were the Games you couldn't fail to love. The Games that seduced cold-headed calculation of cost and reward with their sheer vitality. The Games that took on astonishing life.

They were the Olympics of Usain Bolt, a fabulously exuberant expression of superb natural gifts. Of Mo Farah, who reset the heartbeat of the nation, and Jessica Ennis, whose arrival in this stadium first suggested that something extraordinary, unforgettable, was in the air.

They were the Olympics which, hour by hour, day by day, set a standard of performance that was maybe most perfectly achieved by the Masai tribesman David Rudisha who broke the 800m world record so beautifully, so inevitably, his stride has to be stored away in the memory of anyone who saw it.

They were also, most significantly, the Olympics attended by people who cared, passionately, about the meaning of what they were seeing. They clamoured and scavenged for tickets, were enraged by the sight of empty seats in the first few days; they cheered and they cried and they found in their unbridled enthusiasm at least a passing fascination for previously obscure disciplines like handball and taekwondo.

As they did so they gave fresh substance to the flattering remark of International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge that the Games had come to a place which in so many ways was the founder and organiser of modern sport.

At the time it seemed not much more than a nicety to make his hosts feel a little better about the way they viewed themselves. Soon, though, there were so many reminders that he had merely uttered historic fact, which so many times these past two weeks unfolded again like some giant sunflower.

It reached out into every corner of the Olympics. It touched the swimming pool where the American Michael Phelps fought the years gracefully enough to become the most successful Olympian of all time. It was there at the rowing lake of Eton College, where Heather Stanning, a captain of the Royal Artillery soon bound for duty in Afghanistan, and Helen Glover delivered Britain's first gold with the effect of kicking that first stone which starts the avalanche.

It crowded so deeply along the road on which Bradley Wiggins, the laconic conqueror of the Tour de France, added another Olympic gold medal to his collection before sitting on a mock throne at Hampton Court.

There is no instinct here, and there shouldn't in those political circles always so eager to ride the first tide of popular feeling that comes their way, to elevate these Olympics to inordinate heights. We can say, though, in no vainglorious way that there is indeed a case that they are the most riveting ever staged, that at the end they nosed ahead of the style and flamenco snap of Barcelona in 1992 and the wonderful swagger of Sydney eight years later.

But then what we do expect from the politicians – and it should still be the demand when the great sports carnival has moved on to Rio in four years – is a duty to truly value and protect the vision inspired by London 2012.

There is, no doubt, less guaranteed reflected glory in the provision of facilities which will enable the most talented and dedicated of young athletes to fulfil their promise down the years than in some heavily financed hot-house preparation for a home Olympics.

That the latter process helped to produce so many startling results, not least in the Velodrome, still ruled so magnificently by Sir Chris Hoy, has made it one powerful catalyst in the success of the Games. But it should not blind us to a part of the motivation, which was the huge potential for self-congratulation for those in power who signed the cheques.

If we have to hope for the best in the long run, and this includes a banishing of the grim assessment of the man who spirited these Olympics from under the noses of Paris, Lord Coe, that this is maybe the first British generation fitter than its children, it shouldn't slacken anyone's appreciation of the triumph that was celebrated here last night.

These were, after all, the Olympics that exceeded all expectations as they headed inevitably and in the end near flawlessly to the formal praise of the Olympic head of state Rogge at the end of last night's closing ceremony.

So why were they such "great" Games? Because they were filled not only with great athletic deeds, of which those of the irrepressible Bolt so often touched the surreal, but also because of their humanity.

They were loved, in the manner of Barcelona and Sydney, from the starting gun. They didn't have the resources of Beijing. They had this fine but essentially functional stadium which will surely be pulled down and built again complete with corporate boxes if it comes into the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, rather than the exquisite Bird's Nest arena thrown up without financial accountability by the Chinese.

They didn't have the spectacular swimming and diving Cube where Phelps won eight golds. They didn't have extraordinary evidence of the ancient art of pyrotechnics financed so hugely in Beijing.

But then nor did they have to bus in schoolchildren and off-duty military to the beach volleyball and hockey and hand out flags to be waved in well-drilled unison. The people embraced London 2012 with a spontaneity that swelled like a great tide. And so did so many visitors, charmed by the beach volleyball at Horse Guards Parade and the equestrianism ridden out against the backcloth of Greenwich Palace. London was a player, too, and surely won a gold medal of its own.

One night an elderly American man, who walked with the aid of a stick, told a crowd coming off the Javelin train at St Pancras that he had been to every Summer Games since Rome in 1960, when Muhammad Ali made his entry into public affairs, and that he believed London to be the best. It was because of the people, he said, because of the excitement that had been so unrestrained – and so inspiring to the greatest and most obscure competitors alike.

You could present so many similar snapshots, you could replay again the extraordinary emotion that came when Farah and Ennis and the long jumper Greg Rutherford won three gold medals in less than an hour. You could try to regenerate the charge of electricity that came when Bolt entered the stadium with a nonchalant jocularity that delighted but did not deceive his rapt audience, and relive the extraordinary exhilaration when Hoy, the knight who some thought was honoured too soon, swept in for his sixth gold. You could do all of that and still find, sensation piled upon sensation, a gallery of heroes and heroines.

There was supposed to be a security crisis but the fear of it did not survive the first collision with an amiable paratrooper. The Bobbies were civil and the buses worked. The volunteers were fastidious and kind.

You thought of all this, you recalled once more the sight of Bolt and the meaning of Mo, and you felt pride that the old town had put on such a show. Then the music died and the flame went out and you wondered if we would feel quite this way ever again.

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution